Today, it’s near impossible to imagine the rock scene without Queen. But in the early 1970s, the members of the quartet, fronted by none other than Freddie Mercury himself, were still trying to prove themselves to the music world. Their eponymous debut album was met with a relatively positive reaction, but nothing out of the ordinary. In fact, at this point in time, they were still being compared to the likes of Robert Plant’s Led Zeppelin. Then, along came the Queen sequel, Queen II.
Queen stamped out their unique sound on the record while also taking up space in the visual realm. Queen II’s album cover was bold and brilliant, and it had to be. This was the band’s coming of age announcement, their “here we are world” statement. So, keep reading for the story behind the famous Queen II album cover.
The story behind the Queen II album cover
British photographer Mick Rock captured the photo of the band for the Queen II album cover. Occasionally called “the man who shot the seventies,” Rock became known for his work as David Bowie’s photographer in the early ’70s, as well as for his work with Queen, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, and others.
But for Queen, Rock had a very specific vision for the band’s second introduction to the world.
“Queen wanted to get some attention and the music on their first album hadn’t quite done it,” Rock said in a 2004 interview. “They realized that if you could catch people’s eyes you could get them interested in music.”
So, Rock set out to demand attention. He directed the Queen members—Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor, and John Deacon—into a diamond formation against a black background. The four artists almost lazily glare into the camera with blank expressions while Mercury crosses his hands over his chest. There’s a strong feeling of looming and of prestige emanating from the photograph. One almost feels as though they are viewing something historic. And if you’re feeling a hint of glamour, there’s a reason for that too. Rock had taken inspiration from an earlier photograph of actress/singer Marlene Dietrich in the 1932 film Shanghai Express for Queen’s pose.
“It made them look like a much bigger deal than they were at the time,” Rock said, “but it was a true reflection of their music.”
Rock’s photograph and subsequent album cover for Queen got the customers in the store, but it was ultimately the music that made return customers out of each listener. Queen II is a two-sided LP—“Side White” and “Side Black”—that initiated the band’s cult-like following and wide acclaim, despite a few initial negative reactions. The album was the glittery, diverse preface to the expansive stadium sound that was to come.
Queen was here, they declared, and here to stay.